Musky Down Deep
Musky Down Deep
By Dan Kiazyk
Musky madness, babbling incoherently as the angler hoists one of these mysterious fish for a shutter click and quick release. Then there are the long hours of nothing but a hope that you might see one. There’s also the effort to get into those lakes which are barely accessible and where the amenities are comparable to that once used by cavemen. Why so much effort for so few fish? Answer: I can’t say for sure. Perhaps it’s the discipline necessary and the rewards that come when one is finally boated. Yeah, there are the guys on TV who have the whole thing down to a science but they also have expense accounts which could even bribe a musky! From where I stand in all of this melee it’s not so much the catching as it is developing strategies and looking into different scenarios which makes fishing for musky a lot more fun than fishing for almost any other sports species.
As Karl and I pulled out on the lake we both had some ideas as to how we might catch a glimpse and maybe even catch a musky. Our tactics for the day included casting and doing the “milk run” of a number of spots where I had seen muskies over the years.
As a part of the “Western” fraternity of musky anglers I have a tendency to cast throughout much of the year. Finally in the late fall I troll for practical reasons such as avoiding freezing line and frozen reels. The latter two make casting “ a little less than feasible at that time of year. Casting, however, is what I like to do and do and do. And on this day I thought we’d cast as per usual.
When three pm had rolled around, we had only seen one mid sized musky that followed in that characteristic nonchalant musky manner. Ho… hum the fish seemed to be saying….. been here and followed that before…. Adios! We both looked at each other and wondered what we could do differently. Fortunately as we talked another angler moved through the vicinity --- trolling. Our initial reaction was “yeah, another, frustrated angler not having much luck”. But later we were to concur that that guy had a powerful insight.
We were fishing the "dog-days" of August and the water was at its warmest. Big fish (who could be in the shallows) could also be in deeper water. As simple as it sounds, our strategy had not considered the inclusion of the latter into our attack. Big fish could (on the day we were fishing) have been rooting on forage down in the depths .
Our first adjustment was to key in on what we presumed to be the forage these fish would be feeding on. Secondly we would try to pull our baits through schools of bait (at the level they were at). To accomplish this trolling feat we would adjust our lines and speed so that we could touch bottom at a desired depth. Finally we set off on our troll over deeper water in search of suspending baitfish.
Our efforts were soon rewarded. Rounding a point we saw on our sonar unit clouds of bait suspended at 20 feet. It was just at the moment when I suspect that our lures were passing through these bait fish that Karl felt a bone crushing “kerchunk”. As Karl put it, "that one scared me with the sudden aggressiveness of its bite". Karl was almost being too complacent after a “lazy” day of casting 2000 times. He almost lost the rod but was quickly able to gain his composure setting the hook with his usual eagerness and vigour A few minutes later, the smaller fish yielded to Karl. Our hunch had been correct: some fish were suspending out over deeper water and were foraging more aggressively than were those fish we had seen while casting into the shallows.. But continuing to apply our theory however, would have to wait….. a larger storm was on the horizon necessitating a quick retreat to our camp on an island 3 to 4 miles away.
The next day, we were up at a reasonable hour, met be a blue bird sky. The question that dogged us after the stormy night before was whether or not the mushy would continue to cooperate (musky do bite well before a storm but would they continue after it?). Our plan was to continue with the same game plan established the day before.
Our idea this day was to revisit those areas where we had seen fish over the years and even other spots which looked like they should hold musky, but his time we were going to fish deeper adjacent areas especially those areas which held baitfish. One of the challenges to fishing at any depth is to know where your hook is at any time. Our method for establishing the depth at which we saw baitfish was to get out over the deeper areas and establish at what level in general they were suspended. Following this we would release of deep diving crank baits and would move the boat in towards shore to find the bottom at the depth at which we saw the fish. Both Karl and myself would then proceed to release line and I would adjust our speed until we would start to feel bottom. It was at that point we would then move out to look for the suspended schools of baitfish (it would be remarkable that bait fish would be at the same depth throughout most of the lake on a given day so very little adjustment was necessary once their depth was established).
It wasn’t very long before we had our first good fish on, a solid forty incher. This fish was interesting for a couple of reasons. The fish probably had followed our trolling presentation for quite some distance. As Karl noted on a couple of occasion he had a few erratic “ticks” over 40 feet of water. Couldn’t be a snag because our cranks weren’t that deep and it couldn’t have been a musky because they usually crush something they wanted to eat or do they? When Karl finally subdued the fish we saw to our amazement the fish was hooked just through the lips suggesting that he was more interested in following and nipping at the bait than biting it. The following suggested to us that a pumping motion might also be incorporated into our troll to entice a following fish to bite.
After a few quick photos the 40-inch fish was released to swim another day. Our hypothesis was gathering datum to suggest the fish these days weren’t located where we would usually fish for them. On the contrary they were down deep feeding on suspended baitfish. I now think it all makes sense as the lake’s water temperature had reached its maximum and fish were going to be feeding as their body temperature and metabolisms had reached their peak … they were going to be where foraging and water temperature was the best for them.
We had only to continue on with our working idea to see if we could bring up another fish. About twenty minutes later, approaching a barren rock point, the boat inadvertently moved out over fifty feet of water. A moment or two later I said to Karl that it was time that we move over more productive water. Once again the idea that these fish were suspended over deeper water was driven home to us……a larger fish hit my hook as I was bringing it back up to the boat. I’m still wondering how I could repeat this approach (short of using an electric downrigger and changing depths with my lure every few minutes). Simple as it might sound, we had to go deep for the fish. Prior to this occasion I had been evoking reactionary strikes from shallow fish that probably weren’t feeding but were rather resting and digesting food they had been eating at a deeper depths.
A significantly different pattern had been born that day. It had come out of a hypotheses that we applied with some rigor. The chance sighting of another angling trolling (I ‘ll often wonder now if he was catching any fish) made a difference and that’s an important component to the musky puzzle (that keeps changing too). But perhaps more significant to our days success was an effort to adapt and hypothesize about what these great fish do… I suspect I’ve still got a lot to learn yet!